The Manila correspondent of the Canadian multinational mass media and information firm Thomson Reuters thought it was just another big breaking story, like the Resorts World incident of the year before, for which Reuters was getting him out of bed.
But it was nothing of the sort.
Rather, he was the story.
Reuters just wanted to let him know he had won the 2018 Pulitzer prize for international reporting, the only other home-based Filipino after Carlos P. Romulo in 1942, to win the prestigious award.
Suddenly, the mass com graduate (Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila batch 1983) was wide awake although the enormity of what was just told him would take longer to sink in.
In today’s millennial slang, he was shookt! It’s been 75 years after all since a homeboy won it.
Manny’s Pulitzer was for a ten-story series he wrote about the Duterte Administration’s war on drugs, and it’s a prize he shares with Reuters colleagues Clare Baldwin and Andrew RC Marshall. A team effort that involved a lot of “shoe-leather journalism” – basic, direct, or old-fashioned methods of pursuing the story.
It’s the only kind of reporting Manny knows and “grew up with.” No online research or data for this journalist.
In his 30 years of working the beat, he always preferred the old methods of cultivating his sources -- earning their trust and respect by not taking any bribes, getting his facts right, going to crime scenes, talking to the victims’ families, going over police blotters, autopsy reports, testimonies of witnesses.
The Pulitzer-winning series itself took a while to piece together. It started with the September 2, 2016 Davao City bombing of the Roxas night market, meeting a vendor named Clarita Alia who lost four sons in the course of the present administration’s campaign against illegal drugs, a retired police officer who was finally ready to talk, and one plucky reporter.
This series of stories would individually and collectively win the Manila bureau a slew of awards on the way to the Pulitzer: a citation during the Human Rights Press Awards; a Marshall McLuhan fellowship; two awards from the London-based Amnesty International Media Awards (investigations category and outstanding impact award), and half of the new Roy Rowan Award (best investigative reporting category) at the 79th Overseas Press Club event in New York.
But the way you hear him tell it – winning the Pulitzer never crossed his mind.
He just toiled away at the data the team gathered together, did the leg work and mined all the reports and footage from all sources including barangay CCTVs, personal accounts of church-NGO- and-human rights groups, even funeral-parlor attendants!
Bit by bit, it all started coming together, the nuts and bolts of it, and when the Reuters Manila bureau connected all the dots, so did the Pulitzer people decide who would get the certificate and cash prize for the international reporting category.
On May 31, at Columbia University, Manny received his well-earned “holy grail,” and what that means to him is, “The Pulitzer can hopefully inspire other Filipino journalists to do better; but the courage, dedication and commitment to do good journalism is already in place. It’s long been there.”
“I never expected to win, there are certainly better journalists out there – we should all just continue doing our jobs well and someday it will be somebody else’s turn to be recognized.”
Well said, Manny.
Kelly B. Vergel de Dios has been a practicing journalist and for the past 37 years (she was a newspaper reporter and editor during her last two years in college) and until recently worked for one of the largest broadcast networks in the Philippines where she wrote and produced news and short stories for its online platform. She now freelances and lives in Bulacan with her two children. She writes poetry for a hobby.